Saturday, January 8, 2011

Top Five Favorite Things in Korea

It's the dead of winter and snow covers the ground.  Semester number one of teaching in Korea is over and now I'm only teaching half days at the English Winter Camp.  The days now are much slower, darker, and colder.  Anyone that knows me well enough knows I just don't like the time of the year between New Year's and March.  My hell would be living through January and February over and over again, where the only movies are bad sequels, and Sarah Palin rules the world.  It's a cold and dark world.  To keep things positive, I decided to write about some of my favorite things about Korea.

It's really easy for expats to complain about Korea.  It's understandable because some things can become quite frustrating.  Some things merit complaints such as the fact that Koreans keep the school windows open even when the thermometer outside reads freezing.  This results in everyone having to wear their winter gear indoors.  The amazing thing is that most of the schools have heat available, but most of that heat escapes out the open windows.  Korea prides itself on being environmentally friendly, yet there is the heat just flowing into the atmosphere.  "Are we heating the whole neighborhood?!" I want to say.  Why do they do this?  I haven't heard a good answer.  Anyway, see how easy it is to go off on Korea.  I could go on about just the open windows but I'm turning of the complaining about Korea switch.  Now I'll just briefly complain about expats complaining.

The thing that bothers me the most is when some one mistakes a difference in culture for a fault.  An often heard complaint is about food.  All countries don't eat the same thing, that is obvious enough.  The pizza here is not going to be as good as in Chicago and the Mexican food is not going to be as good as in Texas.  In the United States, the Kimchi in Atlanta is not as good and the Bibimbap in Boston is not as good.  It makes sense, and should be expected.  The western food places that we find in Korea should be viewed as blessings, not as conveniences.  In Gwangju, we are lucky to have a couple good burger places, an awesome Thai place, an Indian place, some decent pizza, a grocers that specializes in Western food, and some other gems.  The problem is that some expats rely on these places and begin to resent Korean food.  Korean food is actually delicious, and I haven't even tried everything yet.  However, I absolutely need breaks from Korean food.  That is when I seek out those western restaurants.  My point is that we should embrace the culture that we live in for this brief period of time and not try to always compare it to our mother culture.  We should not view the western restaurants as places to eat that are surrounded by unfavorable Korean restaurants with weird and unknown food.  We should view the western restaurants as options surrounded many more options.  So in the spirit of positivity, here is my top five favorite things about Korea.  Also, there are a lot of references to China.

Ryan's Top Five Favorite Things About Korea (so far):

5.  Heated Floors - I absolutely love my heated floors.  Almost all of Korea sports the heated floors.  In a culture where if you accidentally walk in to a room with your shoes on it's like you kicked a puppy, heated floors are a must.  I can turn mine on for a couple of hours, my toes get nice and toasty, and then my apartment is set for the day.  If I leave the floor on for thirty minutes too long then it feels like the "ground is hot magma" game came to life and it's time to open a window.  When I lived in China, out of everything, I think the fact that the buildings didn't have any real heat or insulation to speak of was my least favorite thing.  In the winter I could never get away from the cold.  In school I taught in hat and gloves while my breath was visible when I tried to explain the uses of "ever" and "never".  In my apartment I couldn't do anything that didn't involve three comforters piled on top of me.  The winter in China sucked, period.  That's why I'm so grateful for my totally awesome heated floors here in Korea.  Sometimes I just like to lie down on them.

4.  Korean Baseball - Some of the most fun I've had in Korea are at the KIA Tiger games.  I've already written a whole post about how much I like Korean baseball.  Check it out here.

Two of my favorite co-teachers and me.
3.  Co-Teachers - These lovely ladies help me with all things Korea.  My life would be much more difficult without them.  Need some one to shut the middle school students up?  Ask a co-teacher.  Except sometimes this will involve pulling the students hair, making the students kneel on the floor while holding a book over their heads, or just hitting them with a lunch tray.  Hey, whatever works.  Need some one to tell you what you're eating for lunch?  Ask a co-teacher.  Sometimes this is regrettable when she says you're eating a fried cube of blood.  Need a some one to explain the recent announcement over the loud speaker?  Ask a co-teacher.  This will lead to hilarious quotes such as "The vice principle is looking for the students who caught a book on fire when they were smoking cigarettes on the third floor.  Now he wants to kill them."  The co-teachers are great source of information, insight, and general helpfulness.

Sooo good to eat.
2.  Korean BBQ - Yum, Yum, Yum.  My favorite meal in Korea.  If some one asks, "Do you want to get some BBQ?"  I will answer YES before to question is over.  You get strips of pork, beef, or sometimes chicken.  You throw them on the grill in the center of the table and snack on some kimchi or sip on some beer while the meat cooks.  Then you cut the meat with some scissors and put a couple pieces on a leaf of lettuce that can include spicy stuff, vegetable stuff, or egg stuff.  Then you eat it like a fajita or a burrito.  Delicious!  When ever some one asks me how Chinese food and Korean food compare I say that overall Chinese food is better and more diverse, but Korean BBQ is my favorite meal in Asia so far.  It's not even necessarily that is tastes better but I love the whole process.

November Hash House Harriers
1.  The Expat Community - This is my number one by a long shot, because with out the fantastic expat community in Gwangju my experience would be so much different.  Gwangju is only Korea's sixth biggest city, which of course means that there aren't as many foreigners here as other places.  However, we are a tight community that loves to get together.  I spend most of my week at work being the only foreigner around.  I stick out like a celebrity and everyone is curious about me and the students treat me like a rock star.  I can't walk down the hall with out hearing my name five times or saying over ten "hellos".  While it's not all bad, so much attention can become exhausting and I get tired of feeling like a stranger in a strange land sometimes.  Then there are the thousands of conversations I feel left out of because I can't really speak that much Korean.  Luckily I have new friends and a great expat community to escape to almost every weekend and some week nights.  With out them or Caroline, I would either feel lonely or I would have to study Korean intensely.  There's always something to do like concerts, eating out, Hash House Harriers, bowling, carousing around the bars, traveling, movies, Korean class, and so much more.  
When I lived in China there was a large expat community in Nanjing but it wasn't tight and I was barely a part of it.  Geographically I was quite far away from the city center.  I had some really great and wonderful friends in Nanjing (forever friends) but this was a small group and I didn't venture much outside the group.  It wasn't until I found the Ultimate Frisbee team that I felt like a part of something.  I had people to hang out with but except for a couple places it never really felt like much was going on.  We just made our own fun.  Living on the outskirts of a city with a population of over seven million Chinese was also a recipe for loneliness.  Here in Korea things are different.  Gwangju does a great deal for the expat community.  There are expat publications, several websites, a radio station, several expat hang outs, and a plethora of events.  I live in the middle of the city, I feel like a big part of the expat community, and there is always something going on.  That's why it's my number one!

Christmas Ski Trip

1 comment:

  1. Ryan,

    Charles Montgomery from Nanoomi/ReadBuild, who are putting together a book of expat experiences of Korea. It will be published in English and Korea.

    We're looking for authors who blog and I came across your site. This post, in particular, caught my eye because we are

    a) looking for lists

    b) looking for articles and I think co-teachers, baseball, or ondol are good topics.

    You can see our call for submissions here:

    or you can email me if you are interested: charles (at) ktlit (dot) com